“Chike: Energizing and Empowering Potential”
That’s the slogan of a company nestled along the south side of Interstate 20 just east of the Walmart Supercenter. It’s easy to miss the long gray building when whizzing by on the Interstate. But it’s worth taking a closer look.
An electronic map on one wall of an office space inside is dotted with locations literally all over the United States and the world where Chike is distributed, including every U.S. military base. Never heard of it? Look around the supplements aisles of H.E.B., United Supermarkets, and Market Street stores locally and you’ll see the colorful packets of Chike, a high protein iced coffee mix. In January 2023, Chike is on schedule to be available in about 3,500 stores worldwide. And it all starts here at home.
“Everything is completely Abilene made and home grown,” said Caleb Kelso, chief financial officer. “Everything that is Chike happens right here in Abilene.”
From the research and development to the blending to the quality testing to the packaging to the shipping–it all begins and ends in that 180,000 square-foot building that once housed U.S. Brass. The name “Chike” means “strength” and “power of God.” It rhymes with “like,” which makes for an easy website name–www.ILikeChike.com
The process that resulted in the ultra-modern, ultra-cool space on East Stamford Street started in the founders’ kitchens years ago. Both liked protein drinks but neither liked the chalky taste that often accompanies those drinks. They found that products that tasted good were bad nutritionally and the ones that were healthy lacked taste. So, they had a brainstorm, said Mac Mascorro, brand and e-commerce director for Chike. They would develop their own healthy, tasty formula.
“If no one else is going to do it,” they reasoned, “we’ll do it.”
Several years and many formulas later, they landed on what became the original Chike blend. Today, Chike comes in eight core flavors, plus two seasonal flavors, and two new flavors each year. Each packet, no matter the flavor, carries the phrase, “Made with real espresso coffee.” The full name of the company is Chike Nutrition, and the founders and 65 employees take that second word seriously. They tout Chike not only as a delicious protein coffee drink but also as a healthy alternative to popular coffee drinks that are loaded with sugar. Individual packets of Chike, which are mixed with water or milk and poured over ice, contain about 120 calories, 150 milligrams of caffeine (two shots of real espresso), 20 grams of protein, and one gram of sugar. That last part–one gram of sugar–is a major selling point.
“We want to help someone make one healthy decision today,” Mascorro said.
Not only healthy, but delicious. The Chike brand has been so well received lately that a new customer, Wegmans Food Markets located in New York state, devotes an entire aisle to it in some stores, not just space on one shelf. The bins containing individual packets kept selling out, so they created an entire space just for Chike–an Abilene, Texas, original.
“The people that know about it, love it,” said Mascorro, Chike brand director.
A common comment Chike employees hear when someone first tastes one of their drinks is, “Oh, my goodness where has this been?” No one expects a healthy drink to taste so good. Both the taste and the nutritional value are touted by Chike. Even the website boasts that the company’s mission is “To energize & empower your potential to be the best you.”
That question–”Where has this been?– is one that the owners hear a lot, even though the company formed in 2010 and has been manufacturing since 2015. The company, owned by Jason Hodges and Remy Singh, moved into its current space in January 2021 after the extensive renovation required of a building that had sat mostly empty for the past 10 years. Mascorro credits the founders’ commitment to creating a progressive work environment with the cool vibe that can be felt throughout the sleek gray and black front spaces. The 180,000 square feet is divided into 10,000 square feet of office space, 50,000 square feet for current production, and 50,000 square feet of warehousing and future production. The remaining space is for expansion.
The front part of the building features a lot of open space, individual offices, a larger meeting room where the electronic map is located, a fulfillment room, and two break rooms where employees enjoy their own products and once a month take part in a team lunch. Each shipment packed in the fulfillment room includes a hand-lettered thank-you card. Encouraging notes, such as “You Matter,” are handwritten on the card, along with the customer’s name. It is signed with “Thank you for your order!” from “The Chike Team”
The back part of the building is devoted to production, testing, packaging, and distribution. The building actually is occupied by two companies, with the same ownership. Chike Nutrition shares the building with Next Level Nutraceuticals, which produces and distributes products for Chike and other companies. Each area of the building has its own distinct smells, sounds, and activities.
“That’s the smell of Chike being blended,” Kelso, the chief financial officer, said during a tour.
It was the unmistakable aroma of rich espresso coffee being transformed into a Chike blend. The production area has two blending rooms, one with a 1,000-pound blender and one with a 3,000 pound blender. Before the blends are packaged, each batch is tested by humans to make sure it “looks right, tastes right, and smells right,” Kelso said.
Once that bar is cleared, the packaging begins. Every day of the week, hundreds of orders are shipped from East Stamford Street in Abilene to locations all over the world, utilizing every type of carrier. Products are sold in stores worldwide and can be ordered from the ILikeChike website, Amazon, and Walmart. The Chike website also features specialized Chike accessories like drawstring bags, blender bottles, silicone straws, protein powder funnel, and even sunglasses.
For now, close to 70,000 square feet of space is unoccupied in the massive Chike/Next Level building. But don’t expect that to last. Jason Hodges, co-founder, received the Abilene Chamber of Commerce 2022 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. A blurb on the chamber’s website says Hodges is “focused on finding the right opportunities that will allow Chike Nutrition to grow.” With the founders’ entrepreneurial minds and work ethic, they are bound to come up with new ideas for expansion before long. Kelso, the chief financial officer, is an enthusiastic promoter of what lies ahead,
“There’s not a shortage of dreams around here,” he said.
• The word “Chike” comes from the Igbo language and means “strength” and “power of God”. “If you turn our logo on its side, it becomes a power button!”
• Every serving has two shots of tasty espresso
• Brand promise: Pick you up, lift you up, pour into you (With Chike as your daily dose of self-love, your cup will remain full.)
• Chike’s Mission: Energizing and Empowering Potential
• Co-founder Remy Singh calls Chike “Momentum in a Bag”
• Co-founder Jason Hodges received the 2022 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Abilene Chamber of Commerce
2121 E. Stamford St., Abilene
Office Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
By Loretta Fulton
Photos Courtesy of Chike Nutrition